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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

A Capital Idea, My Dear!
by Karen J. Gordon

We're going to look at some specific capitalization rules according to The Chicago Manual of Style. Keep in mind that if you write for newspapers, these rules might not apply.

Book Titles

  • Capitalize the first and last words as well as other major words in the title and subtitle.

  • Lowercase the articles a, an, and the.

  • Lowercase prepositions unless they're stressed (or used as adverbs and/or conjunctions).

  • Lowercase the conjunctions and, but, for, or, and nor.
                        Lord of the Flies
                        Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation
                        A River Runs Through It

Periodical Titles

  • Even if it's part of the official title, "the" is lowercased and not italicized.
                        the New York Times
    the Writer

  • If "the" begins the sentence, it's capitalized.
                        The Register-Guard is my local paper.

Titles and Offices

  • When titles precede a name (or are used as part of the name), they are capitalized.
                         President Carter
                          Mr. President

  • When titles follow a name or are used in place of the name they are lowercased. 
                         When Jimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth president of the United States  was in office...
                         I heard that the president was going to be...

Points of the Compass

  • Lowercase if used to indicate direction.
                        They walked north one mile and then northwest another two miles until they reached the bookstore.

  • Capitalize when used as a regional term.
                        She lives in the Northwest
                        He was raised in the West

Days of the Week, Month and Seasons

  • Capitalize names of days and months.
                        During the month of June, the doctor will only see patients on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

  • Capitalize names of seasons only if part of a name.
                        The Winter Olympics

  • Lowercase seasons when used generically.
                        Children love summer vacation.

Military Terms

  • Full titles of forces and troops are capitalized but are lowercased when standing alone, used in plural, and when not part of the official title.
                        Eighth Air Force; the air force
                        Fifth Army; the army
                        Seventh Fleet; There are several fleets
                        United States Navy; the navy

Academic Degrees

  • When used generically, lowercase.
                        She had a master of fine arts degree.

  • When used as a title (resume, business card, etc.) capitalize.
                        Mary L. Jones Artistic Designs
                        Master of Fine Arts

Brand Names and Trademarks

  • Capitalize names that are trademarked. (A list can be found at http://www.inta.org)
                        Crayola; crayons
                        Jacuzzi; whirlpool bath
                        Tabasco; pepper sauce

Words Derived from Proper Names

  • Adjectives derived from proper names are capitalized.
                        French bread
                        Shakespearean sonnet

  • Lowercase those words derived from proper names that are used generically.
                        swiss cheese
                        dutch oven
                        roman type

Words and Letters Used as Words

  • Capitalize letters used for scholastic grades.
                        Her son received straight As.

  • Capitalize a letter used as a shape.
                       an L-shaped room
                        a T in the road

  • Capitalize letters used as words.
                        the three Rs
                        She typed the MS (manuscript).

Major Keys and Pitches in Music

  • Capitalize letters standing for musical keys and pitches.
                        middle C
                        the key of G major

In addition to these rules, the rule of "It's my story and I'll do what I wanna" applies. If there's a word in your piece that you want to capitalize and it doesn't happen to follow one of the usage rules, go ahead and capitalize it. Just remember to be consistent and don't overdo it, my dear!

For more information on capitalization rules check out The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition.

If you're writing for newspapers, The Associated Press Stylebook is a good reference.

Copyright 2006, Karen J. Gordon

Karen J. Gordon is a freelance writer, editor and natural healing practictioner living in Eugene, Oregon. She writes articles and essays on a variety of subjects including the art and craft of writing, natural healing and personal growth. She is a member of the National Association of Women Writers, Willamette Writers, and Editorial Freelancer's Association. Visit her Web site at http://www.karenjgordon.com









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